Daily Event for July 17

The final moments of the bark Doncaster will never fully be known, but it must have been violent and horrific for those aboard. The ship was built in London, England in 1825 and owned by J. Marshal. In mid 1836 she was owned by Blyth & Sons of London with Captain Pritchard as master.

Her final voyage began at Mauritius on June 20, 1836 and was supposed to end in London. However almost a month later on July 17, 1836 the ship had only made it to the Horn of Africa. The conditions of the sea in that area are well known and in the sailing days many a ship was lost in the treacherous waters around the horn. There were no witnesses to the disaster and no survivors to give statements. The story is only known because of the debris, personal effects and bodies that washed ashore days later.

A man named Hans Adventure, who had been fishing, was the first to discover bodies washing up on the shore near Cape Agulhas, South Africa, this on July 21st. Locals later said that the ship had been off the coast for ten days or more unable to make headway. Sometimes being so close that voices could be heard and men could be seen climbing the rigging. The date the ship was wrecked was an assumption made by the locals, so nobody knows for sure when the Doncaster was lost. It is not even known how many people were on board at the time. Sources put the number between 50 and 80.

When the debris started coming ashore a better picture of who was in the ship started to be seen. Among the trunks and boxes were uniforms and insignias from the 29th, 87th and 99th Regiments of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers along with some of their wives and children. In all about 58 bodies were recovered and buried, but the "parts" of others came ashore as well. Reports were that the bodies were mostly without clothing suggesting that the wreck happened at night. However there were no large parts of the ship recovered which suggests to me that the violence of the sea may have had more to do with the lack of clothing rather than the time the ship was lost.

The authorities in South Africa were made aware of the disaster on or about July 26, but at the time had no knowledge of the name of the ship. It was not until Aug. 1st that the name of the ship was learned, this from the parts of the stern that washed up which bore the ship's name. Word of the loss did not reach England until mid October. Two masts and the bowsprit also came ashore along with some mails. The scene was made worse by the limbs and various body parts which washed up along with the other debris. Many bodies had been torn apart making identification of those who had died a job that could only be done by God. The maker is also the only one who knows exactly how many died and who they were, no credible list of the people in the ship was ever found.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

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